With the Oscars just around the corner, we’ve got movies on the brain. Nominated for seven of the coveted awards, including Best Picture and Best Actor, The Martian, based on Andy Weir’s 2011 novel of the same name, has our vote. Matt Damon plays astronaut Mark Watney — stuck on Mars and fervently plotting to survive long enough to be rescued, he (SPOILER ALERT) figures out how to grow potatoes on the previously barren planet. While Watney only gets to enjoy the fruits (or tubers) of his labor with salt or ketchup, his efforts inspired us to count the ways we love a good spud. Fried, baked, mashed, topped with cheese, or folded into pillowy gnocchi dough, potatoes are pure starchy pleasure. Below find some of our favorite ways to dig into a potato. Surely, The Martian would approve.
Marta, New York, New York
If you’re having trouble deciding whether pizza, potatoes, or pasta is the ultimate comfort food, head straight to Chef Nick Anderer’s Marta in Manhattan’s Martha Washington Hotel for your definitive answer. Marrying the best of all three, Patate Alla Carbonara is a white, thin-crusted pizza cooked on a wood-fire grill and topped with potatoes, guanciale, black pepper, pecorino, and egg, for an especially comforting and tasty iteration of the classic Roman Spaghetti Alla Carbonara. Make a reservation at Marta.
Blue Duck Tavern, Washington, D.C.
This contemporary neighborhood spot in D.C.’s West End turns 10 this year, and while their signature Handcut BDT Fries have been on the menu from the beginning, they’re revamping the recipe for the occasion. Russet potatoes are steamed, dried, seasoned, and mixed. The mashed result is molded onto a sheet pan, hand cut, and fried for a delightfully unique take on your average french fry — inside, a fluffy foil to the perfectly crispy exterior. A happy birthday, indeed. Make a reservation at Blue Duck Tavern.
No. 9 Park, Boston, Massachusetts
With a few ingredients, gnocchi can be made relatively easily, but in the hands of chef Barbara Lynch, simple potato dumplings are elevated to legendary status. In a multi-step process, Lynch’s Prune-Stuffed Gnocchi start with made-from-scratch potato dough, which cover prunes that have marinated in Vin Santo. Forget pillows; this dough is as soft as a down comforter, lovingly wrapped around each sweet wine-soaked fruit. The dumplings are covered with a foie gras butter sauce and topped with slabs of seared foie gras and slivered almonds. Licking the plate might be frowned upon in this stately Beacon Hill spot, but we’re not here to judge. Make a reservation at No. 9 Park.
Bird Dog, Palo Alto, California
The menu at this sleek Palo Alto bistro highlights the best of Japanese meets California cuisine. Broken into three sections, ‘raw’ offers fresh crudo, ‘protein’ features salmon and Wagyu beef, and ‘vegetables’ includes, among other thoughtfully inventive dishes, the Potato Terrine. Chef Robbie Wilson’s version features paper-thin potato layers topped with Tuscan kale, nori, preserved grapefruit, and a butternut squash puree for a dish that’s as beautiful as it is flavorful and comforting. Make a reservation at Bird Dog.
Prime & Provisions, Chicago, Illinois
At this swank steakhouse in Chicago’s River North, the name says it all. The Substantial Baked Potato is stuffed with thick-cut bacon, cheddar cheese, and crème fraîche for an elevated take on the quintessential steakhouse side. Your porterhouse needs this potato. Pro tip: it’s colossal, so get one to share. Make a reservation at Prime & Provisions.
The Breslin, New York, New York
Oh, your favorite French fries are cooked once? How quaint. At chef April Bloomfield’s Michelin-starred gastropub in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, the Thrice Cooked Chips are boiled first, then fried twice for the ultimate in crisp, chewy, salty goodness. They come alongside the excellent Chargrilled Lamb Burger, or order a batch on the side with cumin mayo for dipping. They’re what all fries aspire to be. Make a reservation at The Breslin.
Redbird, Los Angeles, California
Housed in the former rectory of a deconsecrated cathedral in downtown LA, chef Neal Fraser’s acclaimed Redbird serves up sublime New American fare. It’s also a fitting place to have the religious experience that is tasting his utterly decadent Pommes Aligot. He makes the dish by vacuum packing Yukon gold potatoes and cream, cooking the ingredients sous vide, then ricing the result with butter. He finishes with Point Reyes Toma (toma means “cheese made by the farmer himself” in Italian), which adds a generous dose of creamy, buttery richness to what the chef calls “a classic take on aligot with an American cheese.” And since this is Tinsel Town, you can make up for the well-worth-it splurge with a healthful kale smoothie tomorrow. Make a reservation at Redbird.
Juniper, Austin, Texas
Remember the soggy tater tots of your childhood, served next to a sad hot dog in the school cafeteria? Well, the Puffy Potatoes at East Austin’s Juniper are nothing like those. Larger and crispier than their (very) distant cousins with a soft, creamy center, they’re topped with a blanket of fresh-grated Parmesan and come with whipped Dijon mustard for zesty dipping. While thankfully there’s no sad hot dog on offer, turn instead to their Italian-inspired dishes and excellent cocktails for pairing ideas. Make a reservation at Juniper.
Arnaud’s, New Orleans, Louisiana
Soufflé Potatoes are made by thinly slicing, drying, and frying each spud, and then giving them a second dip in a high-heat oil where they take on their signature puffy shape and crispy exterior. Try a batch dipped in Béarnaise sauce at the historic Arnaud’s, which has been serving up authentic Creole fare (think crawfish, spicy shrimp creole, and chicken and andouille gumbo) in NoLa’s French Quarter for nearly 100 years. Make a reservation at Arnaud’s.
Joël Robuchon, Las Vegas, Nevada
The celebrated French chef’s eponymous restaurants specialize in ultra fine dining, turning out house specialties ranging from caviar and frogs legs to truffle-topped foie gras. But his decadent Pomme Purée — prepared with an outrageous (and outrageously delicious) two-to-one ratio of potatoes to butter — proves that even the simplest food can be life-changing in the hands of a supremely talented chef. Make a reservation at Joël Robuchon.
Bottlefork, Chicago, Illinois
Unsurprisingly, potato chips are perfectly delightful on top of plenty of foods — sandwiches, soups, and casseroles to name a few. But do you know what’s good on top of chips? Surprisingly, an egg. At this River North cocktail bar and restaurant, the Bag of Crisps & Eggs features housemade chips that are coated in a dusting of malt-vinegar powder and covered with a poached egg. The result is a strange yet richly satisfying, salty-gooey treat that you’ll be thinking about long after the bag is empty. Make a reservation at Bottlefork.
Binkley’s, Cave Creek, Arizona
This is not your grandmother’s potato salad. The casual summer picnic staple gets a whimsical makeover in chef Kevin Binkley’s Périgord Potato Salad, meticulously prepared with several varieties of potatoes, truffle mayonnaise, delicate slices of ham, celery gelée, and a shaving of black truffles (Doubt those are in your grandmother’s recipe.). Since the restaurant focuses heavily on seasonal ingredients, including the harvest from wife and co-owner Amy’s garden, this deliciously dramatic dish isn’t often on the menu, so take advantage of the opportunity when you can. Make a reservation at Binkley’s.
Regan Stephens lives in Brooklyn, New York, and when she’s not writing about food or beer, you might find her taking in all the great things about the city (restaurants, museums, plays!), reading on her Kindle, or eating ice cream. Probably the last thing. Say hi on twitter @reganstephens.
Photo credits: Nicole Franzen (The Breslin); Paul Wagtouicz (Marta).